Attending Tikkun Leil Shavuot for the First Time

May 9, 2013Audrey Merwin

I have never attended a Tikkun Leil Shavuot, a community gathering to study Torah all night on the holiday of Shavuot. This year, that will all change! On the evening of May 14, I plan to attend an all-night (or most-of-the-night) study session for Shavuot at my synagogue. The idea of staying up all night long to discuss Torah reminds me of college – not studying for finals but engaging in late-night philosophical discussions about the meaning of life. I’m looking forward to experiencing a kind of timelessness that comes with setting the clock aside aside, having no deadline to meet, no train to catch – an oasis in time.

As a first-timer, I have a lot of questions. Luckily, my friends from synagogue have a lot of answers! Here are some of the things on my mind before attending next week’s study session, and the answers they gave me.

  1. Question: How should one dress for a Tikkun Leil Shavuot?
    Answer: Comfortably.
  2. Question: Would it be helpful to pack a pillow or invest in a Snuggie® to rest easily as the mood occurs?
    Answer: Well, a pillow, maybe!
  3. Question: Should I pre-medicate with caffeine or NoDoz® to avoid drifting off into oblivion?
    Answer: The best way to ensure you stay alert is to make a commitment to teach part of the study session. That way, there’ll be no excuse but to stay awake.

With the last answer in mind, I made a commitment to teach, but I took my time zeroing in on a subject: Some academic topics of intrigue were:

  • Was the joining of Boaz and Ruth a levirate marriage, or did it involve redemption (see Ruth 4:13-22)? What did that mean for the inheritance of Ruth’s children and their continuing the line of her first husband Machlon?
  • The Book of Ruth tells how barley was eaten during harvest time. It was gleaned, threshed, and roasted into something edible – a quick farm-to-table process. What did it taste like? Was it especially healthy having come fresh from the field? And what kind of vinegar did they dip it in (see Ruth 2:14)?
  • For those who read Chapter 1 of the Book of Ezekiel on Shavuot, what can we learn from the extraordinary visions of the prophet?

While I planned and pondered and ruminated about this, all of the early teaching slots for the evening were snapped up. Any additional sessions would be scheduled later in the evening, and the later it got, the shorter the session would be.

Shorter is fine with me – but teaching a weighty, academic subject to a weary crowd at 1 or 2 or 3 in the morning won’t do! Now, my plan is to reenergize the overactive minds of the assembled by teaching a song. I’ve cobbled together a few traditional tunes with a “Torah anytime” theme and plan to throw in a round. We’ll see what happens!

Have you ever attended a Tikkun Leil Shavuot? What advice would you give to a first-time attendee?

Audrey Merwin edits Reform Voices of Torah, the Monday edition of Ten Minutes of Torah, for the Union for Reform Judaism.

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